Interventions for infantile haemangiomas of the skin

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2018 Apr 18;4(4):CD006545. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD006545.pub3.


Background: Infantile haemangiomas (previously known as strawberry birthmarks) are soft, raised swellings of the skin that occur in 3% to 10% of infants. These benign vascular tumours are usually uncomplicated and tend to regress spontaneously. However, when haemangiomas occur in high-risk areas, such as near the eyes, throat, or nose, impairing their function, or when complications develop, intervention may be necessary. This is an update of a Cochrane Review first published in 2011.

Objectives: To assess the effects of interventions for the management of infantile haemangiomas in children.

Search methods: We updated our searches of the following databases to February 2017: the Cochrane Skin Group Specialised Register, CENTRAL, MEDLINE, Embase, PsycINFO, AMED, LILACS, and CINAHL. We also searched five trials registries and checked the reference lists of included studies for further references to relevant trials.

Selection criteria: Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) of all types of interventions, versus placebo, active monitoring, or other interventions, in any child with single or multiple infantile haemangiomas (IHs) located on the skin.

Data collection and analysis: We used standard methodological procedures expected by Cochrane. The primary outcome measures were clearance, a subjective measure of improvement, and adverse events. Secondary outcomes were other measures of resolution; proportion of parents or children who consider there is still a problem; aesthetic appearance; and requirement for surgical correction. We used GRADE to assess the quality of the evidence for each outcome; this is indicated in italics.

Main results: We included 28 RCTs, with a total of 1728 participants, assessing 12 different interventions, including lasers, beta blockers (e.g. propranolol, timolol maleate), radiation therapy, and steroids. Comparators included placebo, an active monitoring approach, sham radiation, and interventions given alone or in combination.Studies were conducted in a number of countries, including China, Egypt, France, and Australia. Participant age ranged from 12 weeks to 13.4 years. Most studies (23/28) included a majority of females and different types of IHs. Duration of follow-up ranged from 7 days to 72 months.We considered most of the trials as at low risk of random sequence generation, attrition bias, and selective reporting bias. Domains such as allocation concealment and blinding were not clearly reported in general. We downgraded evidence for issues related to risk of bias and imprecision.We report results for the three most important comparisons, which we chose on the basis of current use. Outcome measurement of these comparisons was at 24 weeks' follow-up.Oral propranolol versus placeboCompared with placebo, oral propranolol 3 mg/kg/day probably improves clinician-assessed clearance (risk ratio (RR) 16.61, 95% confidence interval (CI) 4.22 to 65.34; 1 study; 156 children; moderate-quality evidence) and probably leads to a clinician-assessed reduction in mean haemangioma volume of 45.9% (95% CI 11.60 to 80.20; 1 study; 40 children; moderate-quality evidence). We found no evidence of a difference in terms of short- or long-term serious adverse events (RR 1.05, 95% CI 0.33 to 3.39; 3 studies; 509 children; low-quality evidence), nor in terms of bronchospasm, hypoglycaemia, or serious cardiovascular adverse events. The results relating to clearance and resolution for this comparison were based on one industry-sponsored study.Topical timolol maleate versus placeboThe chance of reduction of redness, as a measure of clinician-assessed resolution, may be improved with topical timolol maleate 0.5% gel applied twice daily when compared with placebo (RR 8.11, 95% CI 1.09 to 60.09; 1 study; 41 children;low-quality evidence). Regarding short- or long-term serious cardiovascular events, we found no instances of bradycardia (slower than normal heart rate) or hypotension in either group (1 study; 41 children; low-quality evidence). No other safety data were assessed, and clearance was not measured.Oral propranolol versus topical timolol maleateWhen topical timolol maleate (0.5% eye drops applied twice daily) was compared with oral propranolol (via a tablet taken once per day, at a 1.0 mg/kg dose), there was no evidence of a difference in haemangioma size (as a measure of resolution) when measured by the proportion of patients with a clinician-assessed reduction of 50% or greater (RR 1.13, 95% CI 0.64 to 1.97; 1 study; 26 participants; low-quality evidence). Although there were more short- or long-term general adverse effects (such as severe diarrhoea, lethargy, and loss of appetite) in the oral propranolol group, there was no evidence of a difference between groups (RR 7.00, 95% CI 0.40 to 123.35; 1 study; 26 participants; very low-quality evidence). This comparison did not measure clearance.None of our key comparisons evaluated, at any follow-up, a subjective measure of improvement assessed by the parent or child; proportion of parents or children who consider there is still a problem; or physician-, child-, or parent-assessed aesthetic appearance.

Authors' conclusions: We found there to be a limited evidence base for the treatment of infantile haemangiomas: a large number of interventions and outcomes have not been assessed in RCTs.Our key results indicate that in the management of IH in children, oral propranolol and topical timolol maleate are more beneficial than placebo in terms of clearance or other measures of resolution, or both, without an increase in harms. We found no evidence of a difference between oral propranolol and topical timolol maleate with regard to reducing haemangioma size, but we are uncertain if there is a difference in safety. Oral propranolol is currently the standard treatment for this condition, and our review has not found evidence to challenge this. However, these results are based on moderate- to very low-quality evidence.The included studies were limited by small sample sizes and risk of bias in some domains. Future trials should blind personnel and participants; describe trials thoroughly in publications; and recruit a sufficient number of children to deduce meaningful results. Future trials should assess patient-reported outcomes, as well as objective outcomes of benefit, and should report adverse events comprehensively. Propranolol and timolol maleate require further assessment in RCTs of all types of IH, including those considered problematic, as do other lesser-used interventions and new interventions. All treatments should be compared against propranolol and timolol maleate, as beta blockers are approved as standard care.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / adverse effects
  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / therapeutic use
  • Adrenergic beta-Antagonists / administration & dosage
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Bleomycin / therapeutic use
  • Child, Preschool
  • Hemangioma, Capillary / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Lasers, Dye / therapeutic use
  • Methylprednisolone / adverse effects
  • Methylprednisolone / therapeutic use
  • Photochemotherapy / methods
  • Prednisolone / adverse effects
  • Prednisolone / therapeutic use
  • Propranolol / administration & dosage
  • Radiotherapy / methods
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Remission Induction / methods
  • Skin Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Timolol / administration & dosage


  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones
  • Adrenergic beta-Antagonists
  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Bleomycin
  • Timolol
  • Prednisolone
  • Propranolol
  • Methylprednisolone